Among Famous Books eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 221 pages of information about Among Famous Books.

LECTURE I

THE GODS OF GREECE

It has become fashionable to divide the rival tendencies of modern thought into the two classes of Hellenistic and Hebraistic.  The division is an arbitrary and somewhat misleading one, which has done less than justice both to the Greek and to the Hebrew genius.  It has associated Greece with the idea of lawless and licentious paganism, and Israel with that of a forbidding and joyless austerity.  Paganism is an interesting word, whose etymology reminds us of a time when Christianity had won the towns, while the villages still worshipped heathen gods.  It is difficult to define the word without imparting into our thought of it the idea of the contrast between Christian dogma and all other religious thought and life.  This, however, would be an extremely unfair account of the matter, and, in the present volume, the word will be used without reference either to nationality or to creed, and it will stand for the materialistic and earthly tendency as against spiritual idealism of any kind.  Obviously such paganism as this, is not a thing which has died out with the passing of heathen systems of religion.  It is terribly alive in the heart of modern England, whether formally believing or unbelieving.  Indeed there is the twofold life of puritan and pagan within us all.  A recent well-known theologian wrote to his sister:  “I am naturally a cannibal, and I find now my true vocation to be in the South Sea Islands, not after your plan, to be Arnold to a troop of savages, but to be one of them, where they are all selfish, lazy, and brutal.”  It is this universality of paganism which gives its main interest to such a study as the present.  Paganism is a constant and not a temporary or local phase of human life and thought, and it has very little to do with the question of what particular dogmas a man may believe or reject.

Thus, for example, although the Greek is popularly accepted as the type of paganism and the Christian of idealism, yet the lines of that distinction have often been reversed.  Christianity has at times become hard and cold and lifeless, and has swept away primitive national idealisms without supplying any new ones.  The Roman ploughman must have missed the fauns whom he had been accustomed to expect in the thicket at the end of his furrow, when the new faith told him that these were nothing but rustling leaves.  When the swish of unseen garments beside the old nymph-haunted fountain was silenced, his heart was left lonely and his imagination impoverished.  Much charm and romance vanished from his early world with the passing of its pagan creatures, and indeed it is to this cause that we must trace the extraordinarily far-reaching and varied crop of miraculous legends of all sorts which sprang up in early Catholic times.  These were the protest of unconscious idealism against the bare world from which its sweet presences had vanished.

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Among Famous Books from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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